Bold New Steps for New Edgecliff Theatre

Company observes its 20th anniversary with a new home in Northside and a new production, sexy comedy "Venus in Fur"

Feb 13, 2018 at 12:30 pm
click to enlarge Brandon Burton and Tess Talbot in "Venus in Fur" - PHOTO: Mikki Schaffner Photography
PHOTO: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Brandon Burton and Tess Talbot in "Venus in Fur"

It’s been 20 years since New Edgecliff Theatre began, rooted in the concept of locally produced professional theater that founder Michael Shooner first experienced at Edgecliff College in the 1970s. Since then the company has focused on creating powerful artistic experiences featuring local actors and stressing the fundamental communion between performer and audience without fancy technical trappings. But NET’s path in recent years has been rocky as it has sought a permanent performing space. But now it has settled into a long-term home, an 1885 Masonic lodge in the heart of Northside’s business district. 

The company’s 20th season begins next month with David Ives’ sexy comedy Venus in Fur, March 1-17. Jim Stump, NET’s producing artistic director since 2011, is pleased with the second-floor theater space at Hoffner Lodge. He praises building owners Andy Thomas and Lydia Kelly, who have been very accommodating. 

Hoffner’s theater space isn’t perfect: Access to the second floor is up steep steps. But the space itself works well for NET. 

“We’ve drawn community attention to the building,” Stump says, adding that many other arts groups are now drawn to Northside. The brewery Urban Artifact, where NET initially envisioned a performance venue, hosts improv and live music. 

NET has also engaged new personnel. Marta Backman, previously stage manager and production director, is now also associate artistic director. Patti Rosely, recently with the Cincinnati Playhouse, has been named managing director, and Kat Reynolds handles public relations and marketing. Stump has recruited designers for scenery, props, lighting and costumes. The company operates on a limited budget, so no one is full-time: Most are paid a stipend from show to show. 

“We concentrate on the quality of performance as opposed to choosing shows needing spectacular effects,” Stump says. “People really like the more intimate feel of how we do things.”

NET plans to reinforce its physical capacity with a new storage facility for set pieces, flats, platforms and hand props.  

The company’s 20th season was scheduled to begin last fall with Terrence McNally’s Master Class, originally planned for spring 2017. That production fell apart when several people involved had conflicts. Similar problems doomed the October staging, when personal and scheduling challenges forced the actor playing opera star Maria Callas to back out. Stump, always optimistic, hopes to offer the play in a future season.

NET’s annual fall fundraiser around Halloween, Sweet Suspense, did happen. Staged as an old-time radio program with sound effects, the event generates $2,000 to $3,000, thanks to Northside bakeries donating desserts for intermission enjoyment. 

Now it’s time for the season’s first show, Ives’ Tony-winning Venus in Fur, staged by Greg Procaccino, a previous NET artistic director. The two-hander is about a beleaguered playwright/director desperate to find the right actress to play Vanda in his adaptation of a sadomasochistic tale. He auditions a late-arriving, vulgar and desperate actress, who is coincidentally named Vanda. Tess Talbot and Brandon Burton, past interns at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, will perform Ives’ witty seesaw battle that blurs the line between the audition, the playwright’s erotic script and a mysterious reality.

Stump is a creative promoter: During the run of Venus in Fur, he’s arranged for a drink special at the Littlefield, a nearby cocktail, bourbon and beer bar. “The Fetish” craft cocktail will combine tobacco-infused bourbon, an aromatized wine, apple brandy and an allspice tincture. A portion of each drink payment will benefit NET.

The abbreviated 2017-18 season concludes with David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre (April 12-28), staged by Elizabeth Harris, another NET veteran. It’s about a young actor on his way up and an older performer whose career is waning. Their conversations and confrontations in Mamet’s iconic, stiletto dialogue reflect the life cycle experienced by actors. 

Theaters also have life cycles, and NET’s appears to be on the upswing. Stump plans to produce three shows for the 2018-19 season (to be announced in April). He’s also considering remounting The 12 Dates of Christmas, a popular holiday offering.

New Edgecliff Theatre is located at Hoffner Lodge, 4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside. Tickets/more info: newedgecliff.com.